In addition to being a relaxing activity that feels good, massage can be extremely beneficial to health, and is becoming more widely recognized and sought out as a treatment for various physical maladies as well as to improve mental wellbeing. The American College of Physicians lists massage as an effective treatment for back pain, and studies show that regular deep tissue massage in particular is useful for alleviating back and musculoskeletal pain. 1 2 It can also be effective for those suffering from chronic neck pain. 3 Chronic neck pain can lead to frequent headaches as well, so this can be an effective treatment option for those suffering from headaches 4
Regular gentle massages can be beneficial for those who are pregnant, reducing back and leg pain associated with pregnancy as well as regulating stress levels. 5 Always speak to a trusted healthcare provider before beginning a massage regimen while pregnant, as it could pose health risks depending on the trimester you are in and your individual situation.
Types of Massage
There are various types of techniques. Here is a brief overview of some of the most popular ones and what you can expect from each of them.
Swedish massage is a gentle, full-body technique usually used to release tension, get rid of knots in muscles, and promote relaxation. During a typical appointment you will remove your clothing and lie on a table with a sheet covering you while the massage therapist uses various techniques including kneading, deep circular strokes, tapping, and long strokes.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue technique is similar to a Swedish massage, but involves more pressure. During a deep tissue appointment, your massage therapist will use the same techniques as in a Swedish appointment but will apply harder, deeper pressure. Deep tissue massage is popular for people experiencing soreness or chronic muscle pain and with athletes looking to recover from sports injuries.
Aromatherapy massage is a soft, full-body technique that includes the application of diluted essential oils to your body during the appointment. Your massage therapist will determine the best essential oils to use, but you can let them know your preferences so that you do not get any fragrances that are unpleasant for you. Aromatherapy technique is popular for those looking to boost their mood, relieve stress, and studies show that it can improve sleep quality. 6 People who are sensitive to smells or tend toward allergies should try a small amount of the oil prior to it being used all over the body.
Hot Stone Massage
Hot stone is a full-body technique where the massage therapist uses heated stones instead of their hands to massage your body. Once you are positioned on the table, your massage therapist will arrange heated stones on your body and then apply pressure to the stones to ease muscle tension. Hot stone sessions are popular among those looking to promote relaxation, ease tension, and relieve muscle pain.
Traditional Chinese Massage – Tui Na, Gua Sha, and Cupping
There are many different forms of Chinese massage that may incorporate work along the Traditional Chinese Medicine meridians (energy pathways used in acupuncture). Tui Na and Gua Sha use different approaches to manipulating the meridians. Tui Na emphasizes touch (pinching, pulling and pushing), where Gua Sha and cupping stimulate circulation to a specific area through vigorous skin rubbing, tapping or scraping, and in the case of cupping, using suction to increase blood flow.
*Bruising after a cupping or Gua Sha session may occur.
Reflexology focuses on specific points located on the hands, feet and ears. This method is a good option for people who are not comfortable or not in a location where they can be undressed. It can also be a helpful and relaxing addition to full body massage.
Chair massage usually focuses on the upper back, neck and arms. You may have seen chair massages in places like airports, malls, or work conferences. This is a convenient method when a full table massage is not practical.
Shiatsu is a type of Japanese massage people often seek to relieve pain, muscle tension, and to produce a state of calm. The therapist may focus on the full body or pay attention to specific areas depending on the patient’s complaint.
Thai massage is an active form of massage that incorporates stretching, postures, and therapist-assisted movements. You will be asked to wear loose or flexible clothing for this method of massage. People looking for increased circulation, flexibility and range of motion may benefit from Thai massage.
Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old traditional practice in India. There are many different forms of ayurvedic massage that may include oils, aromatherapy, and different manual therapies. The type of massage and oils used will typically be individualized for the person based on their dosha – or constitution according to ayurveda.
In Reiki massage (another type of Japanese massage), the therapist barely touches the client. This method is a form of energy practice that some people find helpful in attaining deep relaxation and emotional balance.
Many cultures and customs incorporate various different massage techniques. This is a short list of some of the most common ones ND patients use.
When choosing a massage or yoga therapist, it is best to make sure they are a licensed provider and following best practices on safe and therapeutic massage. Your ND may recommend massage as part of your healthcare regimen.